The Noordhoek Wetland is at high risk of going extinct after a new road development was approved but environmentalists are not giving up the fight to save it.
Noordhoek, South Africa (19 April 2021) – The City of Cape Town (CoCT) has been given the go-ahead to build the Houmoed Phase 1 Extension that environmentalists believe will lead to the local extinction of the Western Leopard Toad and progressively empty the Noordhoek wetlands of its wildlife. The Noordhoek Environmental Action Group (NEAG), backed by the Noordhoek Ratepayers Association (NRPA), have launched an application to the Western Cape High Court for the approval by Minister Anton Bredell to be reversed.
The proposed Houmoed Phase 1 Extension plans to link Noordhoek Main Road with Kommetjie Road, and will run along the south-eastern side of the Noordhoek Wetlands. NEAG’s Dr Andrea Marais says,
“The three permanent bodies in the wetland will certainly be catastrophically impacted by the proposed road and traffic as well as noise and light pollution that comes with a road. It will cause a set of knock-on problems for residents of Noordhoek and Masiphumelele.”
“Wetlands provide important ecological services for the city, keeping water clean, replenishing aquifers and preventing flooding. In other parts of the city where water bodies have been destroyed by development, like the Milnerton lagoon, it has cost the city a fortune to clean up. When the Noordhoek wetland collapses, as this road is the final nail in the coffin, then they’ll have to spend millions to try and fix it. However, once a wetland has collapsed it can’t be fixed, it is basically extinct,” she says.
“Without the wetland there is a very real risk of flooding, drought damage, nutrient runoff, water pollution, shoreline erosion and an increase in air-borne diseases that will have an enormously negative effect on the residents of Masiphumelele and Noordhoek. It also triggers a massive decline in wildlife. The long-term environmental degradation this road will cause as it progressively sanitises the entire wetland of any life far outweighs any short-term traffic benefits suggested by the city,” she says.
Alison Faraday of the ToadNUTs, an organisation that has been collecting data and saving Western Leopard Toads since 2007, says, “The toads are a ‘canary in the coalmine’ species for biodiversity. A flagship species for all the wildlife that lives in the wetlands, like porcupines, caracals, owls, grysbok and many others. We are already seeing a decline in toad populations, and if we lose the toads, the other species will follow. The Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee agrees that this road may well eliminate the local population of the species,” she says. ToadNUTs has been supported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and other eminent amphibian specialists in their assertion.
“All roads have a very negative impact on wildlife, there is no doubt about that. Not only do animals cross the road and get run over, roads have an emptying out effect and that is what we’re worried about for the wetlands,” she says. “Specialists have advised us that this road will cause the wetlands to collapse.”
Marais says, “Initially this was meant as a temporary road, and no alternative roads were explored. We are flabbergasted as to the schizophrenic nature of City who claim concern for endangered species and wetlands, but at the same time set out to destroy them. The City’s climate change strategies and other environmental plans cannot be taken seriously if they don’t plan on protecting the City’s biodiversity and wetlands,” she says. “Applications like this one makes it look like the City of Cape Town does not value biodiversity and therefore they do not value the quality of life of Cape Town’s residents. The public should be outraged.” she says.
“NEAG has been fighting this road for the well-being of future generations whose quality of life will be directly impacted by the decreasing biodiversity. Studies have shown a marked psychological benefit to people who live near wildlife and natural areas. Houmoed Phase 1 stands to severely degrade local biodiversity speeding up the rate of local extinctions. In the long term it will impact the well-being of residents as tipping points are reached and local ecosystems collapse,” she says.
“On a personal note,” says Marais, “I volunteered as the nature teacher at a school in Masiphumelele that will be impacted by this road. As I arrived on the first day the kids very excitedly pulled me by the hands, clothes and pants to show me a pair of breeding owls nesting on the boundary between the school and the Noordhoek wetlands. Houmoed Phase 1 will destroy these nature experiences for not only these kids, but for all future children. It is an extinction of experience,” she says.
“The City is arguing to put the road in and then monitor its impacts on biodiversity. Who will monitor the impact of this road and will they remove the road when they see that it is destroying all life in the Noordhoek wetlands?” she says.